On February 16th 2023 the "China Spy Balloon" story we've all been beaten over the head with got a lot harder to decode. Here's how the events and the story have unfolded:
February 2: Senior Defense Department Official says the U.S. has "very high confidence" that a Chinese Balloon flying over the lower 48 states is flying over sensitive sites to collect information
February 3: Chinese Foreign Ministry publishes statement saying the balloon is used for climate research and landing in US airspace because it flew off course.
February 4: Defense uses an F-22 fighter jet to shoot the balloon down over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina
February 4-14: three more unidentified flying objects shot down over US and Canada
February 14: John Kirby tells reporters the intelligence community is considering as a "leading explanation" that those object were for commercial or benign use
February 14: Remains of balloon recovered by the US Navy, media reports "sensors", US intelligence maintains that this was a spy balloon
February 16: US Officials say intelligence watched the balloon from its launch in late January and "may have inadvertently flown off course" into US airspace
Wait, is US intelligence now in agreement with the Chinese Foreign Ministry? I do not take what either government says at face value, and personally, am not even sure which aspects of this event are true and which ones are false. But this is somewhat remarkable. Anti-China rhetoric in the US hit what might be an all time high over the two weeks that this story developed. There was not a single voice of suspicion among the conservative or liberal media. As soon as images of the balloon started circulating, just about everyone "knew" it had to be a spy balloon, and that if we didn't shoot it down, the People's Liberation Army would be storming our beaches tomorrow.
On February 9th, another US official told reporters that the balloon was, "Likely part of a huge aerial spy program operated by the Chinese military that has targeted more than 40 countries on 5 continents with similar high altitude surveillance balloons". In a span of two days, US officials have made a complete about face, from hurling accusations of a massive global surveillance program, to a research balloon blowing off course.